Faculty and students from the University’s Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO)
and the department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies (BLVS)
, participated in the inaugural Junior Summer Academy, a unique program for middle school students who are visually impaired. The five-day program hosted at Kutztown University aims to promote access and utilization of assistive technology as it relates to daily living activities, travel, school and future employment, while building friendships in an educational environment.
“The goal of the program is provide the skills needed as the students transition into high school and beyond, whether it’s cooking meals for themselves or navigating to the bus stop” said Emily Vasile, MAT, TVI, MS, CLVT, coordinator of the University’s program for Education of Children and Youth with Visual Impairments.
The program’s attendees ranged in age from 12 to 14 and had a wide spectrum of visual impairments, from the inability to see objects at certain distances to complete blindness. Some also had accompanying impairments, such as hearing loss, Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and physical disabilities. During the program, participants learned about a variety of topics related to low vision such as using assistive technology, vision rehabilitation therapy, orientation and mobility, vocational/career development, low vision rehabilitation, social work/counseling guidance, and recreational activities.
The Junior Summer Academy provided a unique interdisciplinary opportunity for Salus. Accompanied by Ms. Vasile; low vision optometrist and PCO instructor, Dr. Erin Kenny; PCO residents Dr. Heather Whyte and Dr. Jordan DeMarco; Erin Woods ’18OD; and Kerry Lueders, MS, COMS, TVI, CLVT , director of the Low Vision Rehabilitation Program, all facilitated engaging activities for the students.
A cow eyeball was examined and dissected with the participants in order to explore the eye both visually and tactually. The students also learned how various parts of the eye relate to their visual conditions, according to Dr. Whyte.
“It was amazing to see them connect their knowledge of their own visual impairment with their new found knowledge about the various parts of the eye and their primary functions,” she said. “For the students with low vision, we utilized video magnifiers to help assess the eyeball. The students who did not want to touch the eyeball were able to complete the activity using a plastic 3D model of the eye.”
The other activity involved becoming acquainted with low vision devices for near and distance viewing.
“The activity helped the students explore the different low vision devices and identify device preferences for short-term reading tasks and long term reading tasks,” Ms. Lueders said. “Some of these devices were new to the students, so it was a good educational experience.”
Conceptualized by the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS) in partnership with the Department of Education/Bureau of Special Education, Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) Kutztown University and Salus University, the program was a positive experience for all involved.
“We all hope it will become a tradition for Salus faculty, staff and students to help educate participants in future Junior Summer Academies,” Dr. Kenny said.
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Photo Credit: PA Office of Vocational Rehabilitation